Texas Czech of Texas Czechs: an Ethnolinguistic Perspective on Language Use in a Dying Language Community

Ludmila Dutkova, University of Arizona

This paper identifies the remaining functional contexts of Czech language use in the Texas Czech speech community, and examines a limited yet still relevant role of speaking and/or comprehending an obsolescing language in ethnic identity of its users. In the process of shift, language functions become redistributed and those of a dying language, reduced. Such is the case of Texas Czech communities where the top-down functional shift (Hill 1983) has entered a critical stage. I investigate the question of language use in a dying language community from both the insiders' and the researcher's perspectives, using speech and questionnaire data from 39 informants, the second-to-fourth generation descendants of Czech Moravian immigrants to Texas.

The data suggest that while the speaker's and interlocutor's identities are important determinants of language choice (Gal 1979, Dorian 1981), the participants' language choice in Texas Czech communities is predictable only from the interplay of three factors: Interlocutor, Setting (specific social contexts), and Topic (specific functional contexts of language use). According to Dorian (1981, 1982), the East Sutherland Gaelic semi-speakers with a severely limited productive competence showed remarkable communicative skills due to their receptive competence. Similarly, when speakers choose to use Texas Czech, the success of communication does not depend on whether their interlocutor is an equally proficient peer, because also the low proficient semi-speakers and near-passive bilinguals of Texas Czech tend to maintain excellent receptive skills.

Further, American Czech has lost its honorific T/V pronoun distinction of full Czech (Henzl 1975ms, Kuchera 1989). My data show that the intimacy associated with the T dimension may have been replaced by any use of Texas Czech, which functions as a marked "we code" (Gumperz 1982), importantly however not in opposition, but in addition to English. Texas Czech today survives as one of the many expressions of Texas Czech (Moravian) identity, and just as with other "badges of ethnicity" (Dauenhauer 1998 et al.), its use is a matter of personal choice. One can feel Czech and/or Moravian without speaking the language, yet any volunteered use of Texas Czech is emblematic of the group membership (Barth 1969), marking intimacy and the ingroup ethnic solidarity.